May 15, 2010 12:06 PM | Michael Rose
Lagging behind with this one, but I've finally gotten around to giving the Frozen Synapse beta a playthrough. For those out of the loop, it's an upcoming turn-based strategy with a Rainbow Six feel to it.
The battlefield is blue, and your squad is waiting for orders. Soldiers can be given waypoints and firing orders, and your job is to eliminate the enemy before the game ends. A lengthy (but very informative/useful) tutorial takes you through the ins and outs of combat and movement, then you're thrown into single and multi-player firefights.
Matches can be played against an AI-controlled enemy, or online versus other players. Set the red light in the corner of your screen to green, and the game will automatically start looking for players to challenge, usually finding you a match within 60 seconds.
There's a huge amount of depth to be found. On each turn, squaddies can be ordered to move, cover and shoot in a huge variety of ways. When spotting an enemy, a soldier can be told to shoot on sight, or continue moving in order to be placed in a better position. If set to aiming mode, he'll move slower, but fire earlier.
There are also methods to getting the best shot in and making sure it's the enemy who goes down in a one-on-one fight. Low walls can be used as cover, and guessing where an enemy soldier is going to move to on his next turn is essential is striking the first blow.
All gameplay is turn-based - players set all their moves, hit the play button to check it all works out, then click PRIME to commit the move. This is where Frozen Synapse gets interesting. All moves are commited to an online server, and if one player commits, but the other player hasn't moved yet, the game will simply wait until they are ready.
If a player quits out of the game, the match and all its moves - even past rounds - will be saved, and both players can come back to the game at any point. In a nutshell, both players don't need to be there and attentive all the time - a game can take as little or as much time as needed, even played in the background while you go about your regular business.
Players can also have as many games on the go as they wish, and switch between them at any point. There are tons of different game modes, too - the classic Extermination aka 'kill everything that moves', saving your team-mates in Hostage mode, and many others. Each also has a Dark version, i.e. if your soldiers haven't got the enemy in their line of sight, they'll be invisible on the map.
Once a match is over, it can be automatically uploaded to Youtube from inside the game. I recorded a quick game last night with a friend (check the video above) so I could better explain what's going on. This particular game was made up of three rounds, but the final playback pastes the whole game together as one continuous firefight.
My squad is highlighted in green, while the enemy is red. Note, this is Dark Extermination, so when my guys can't see the enemy, I can't either. In the first round, Soldier #2 (a grenadier) lobs a grenade through the doorway before legging it into another room. I'd assumed the enemy would also throw a grenade at me, so it was important to get out of the way.
My machine-gunner down below runs close to the right-hand doorway, ready to make a gunning run on the next turn. The other guy - another grenadier - takes up position and bounces a grenade off the door frame in the hope that the enemy ventures upwards.
The result of round one is a dead enemy at the top, so I'm on top already. Note that the final recording of a Dark match shows both teams, but at this point in-game, I could not see the remaining two guys. They are both cooped up in that bottom room, but it was equally likely that one had begun to venture outside to the right.
Second round, and my two grenadiers take up position and fire into the bottom room. My idea was to completely cover the room with explosives, so that if any enemy soldiers lingered in there, they'd definitely end up dead.
My machine-gunner takes a risk and sprints outside, aiming as he rounds the corner. Unfortunately, he's caught by the enemy who is already watching in that direction and winds up eating the dust. The round ends as the grenades are about to go off.
By this point, I've seen inside the enemy's room via my machine-gunner, and I know that I'm about to win due to the grenades which are about to go off. Just in case something crazy happens, however, I use round three to fire off another grenade. Inevitably, all goes according to plan, and I win the match.
This is just a simple match - games can go on for many more rounds depending on which limits you set, and soldiers can carry a variety of weapons, from shotguns to rocket launchers. As I mentioned, Frozen Synapse has a serious amount of depth to it. Mike Boxleiter of MikenGreg made the comment to me last night that he thought "all squad based games should descend from this model in the future", and he's definitely not wrong there - it's seriously impressive stuff.
Frozen Synapse is available for pre-order, with the beta available for anyone who grabs it now. It's $25.99 (£16.99) for two copies of the game. A full release is set for 'late 2010', and will feature a full single player campaign mode.